Minister admits Fyre Fest conflict ‘doesn’t look good’


Tribune Business Editor


The involvement of a senior Ministry of Tourism official in the ill-fated Fyre Festival’s catering “doesn’t look good”, a Cabinet Minister admitted yesterday, agreeing it created ‘conflict of interest’ perceptions.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, the Minister of Tourism, said senior officials at his Ministry had been unaware DeAnne Gibson, its manager of culinary tourism, was linked via her sister to the company that provided catering services to the event.

He revealed that he requested “a more detailed” report from his officials on the Fyre Festival debacle after Tribune Business revealed that catering was provided by a company created specifically for the event, called Cater Fyre.

Cater Fyre was organised by Mrs Gibson’s sister, Donna M. Williams, assistant professor of food safety and sanitation at the University of the Bahamas, who also trains instructors to teach the Government’s food handling certification course. She appeared to have partnered in the Cater Fyre venture with Chef Aldred Saunders, the University’s assistant professor of baking and pastry.

The Cater Fyre saga raises questions over whether some officials were using their public positions for private advantage, and viewed Fyre Festival as a potential source of profits, especially after Mr D’Aguilar confirmed that the organisers sought the Ministry of Tourism’s advice on potential caterers.

He added, though, that there was no evidence that they had been directed to use Cater Fyre by Mrs Gibson, while the festival’s collapse into chaos meant the anticipated profits never materialised for the company’s principals.

“You’re absolutely right. I don’t deny that,” Mr D’Aguilar responded, when questioned by Tribune Business about Cater Fyre and the potential ‘conflict of interest’. “I think what happened was that the Ministry was approached as to who can cater to this event.

“The Ministry suggested; senior officials in the organisation suggested, I think, four to five companies. Having been given the names of them, the organisers came back and said they’ve found someone. The senior officials then stepped back. They were unaware there was a relationship between the caterer and the senior culinary official at the Ministry.”

The Minister admitted: “Obviously, that doesn’t look good but, at the end of the day, it’s up to the customer to make that selection. They gave the organisers the names of a number of companies, and if they decide to go with a relative of the culinary manager, it’s a free market and they made that decision.

“It’s not as if they don’t have a choice. We put them with a number of catering companies, and they decided to go with this person. It’s coincidence that it was a relative of a Ministry of Tourism official, and that doesn’t look good. 

“One could argue there’s a conflict with a Ministry of Tourism official directing them to a relative, but ultimately the choice was the customer’s. It just happened to be coincidental.”

Denaldo Bain, a Bahamian chef, previously revealed that the Cater Fyre principals used their School of Hospitality contacts to recruit himself and around 50 others to the catering team for the ill-fated music festival, whose collapse has spawned multiple multi-million dollar lawsuits in the US.

Mr Bain said he had been informed that the catering contract was worth $1.1 million, and described Mrs Gibson’s presence at the Exuma festival site as the event descended into chaos.

Asked whether he planned on taking disciplinary action, or requesting a further investigation, Mr D’Aguilar replied: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how that works.

“These people [the Fyre Festival organisers] came into this country are are seeking advice on who can cater to their event. They were provided with options. What I don’t know is if that official with the Ministry of Tourism gave the hard, hard sell to select these persons. That doesn’t look right, but I’ve not talked to the Fyre Festival people to find out.”

Fyre Festival, which was organised by hip hop artist, Ja Rule, and his technology entrepreneur buddy, William McFarland, has left a mountain of Bahamian debts in its wake following the debacle.

Among the unpaid Bahamian vendors and workers are Cater Fyre and its principals, and their entire team. Mr D’Aguilar suggested they had not profited from the event as planned, but added: “One needs to investigate how much business these persons ended up getting because of their position at the Ministry of Tourism. There’s definitely a conflict that we need to refute.

“In this instance, I feel fairly comfortable that the organisers were advised of other options, but they ultimately decided to go with the relative of the culinary person. In this particular instance, I’m not terribly concerned.  As a rule, you don’t want people in government ministries directing business to relatives without providing options, and I know they [Fyre Festival] were advised of options.”

Mr D’Aguilar also revealed that he had sought “a more detailed report” from Ministry of Tourism officials following Tribune Business’s revelations over the Fyre Festival catering contract and other developments relating to the debacle, which has left Bahamian small and medium-sized businesses and workers owed thousands of dollars.

This newspaper has also questioned whether the Ministry of Tourism’s approach and judgment towards Fyre Festival was clouded, and affected in any way, by some officials seeing it as an opportunity to make money.

Neither Mrs Gibson, nor Ms Williams and Chef Saunders, have responded to multiple Tribune Business phone and e-mail messages over the past week seeking comment.


ohdrap4 6 years, 10 months ago

“In this instance, I feel fairly comfortable that the organisers were advised of other options, but they ultimately decided to go with the relative of the culinary person

i think the other providers smelled a rat. lol.


bahamalove 6 years, 10 months ago

Since Mr. D'Aguilar doesn't know what he is going to do, I believe that at minimum all Ministry employees be made to familiarise themselves with the organisation's Code of Ethics if there is one. My feeling is that no such document exists in the public sector or civil service.


ThisIsOurs 6 years, 10 months ago

Exactly I'm shocked he made that statement. I'm concerned about this administration if they make announcements like that. That company should never have gotten a bid in, not when we have hundreds of other qualified caterers


ThisIsOurs 6 years, 10 months ago

The fact that the company was registered just days before should have been a giant red flag. Mr D'Aguilar surprises me, he says he doesn't know what to do, he has a successful million dollar business, what would he do if he found one of his purchasers directing business to themselves? Or offering their services without revealing that they are associated with the company? This is a firing offence.


Shedemands 6 years, 10 months ago

This is how it is done in their world!


The_Oracle 6 years, 10 months ago

Damn near all civil servants do this kind of stuff, endemically corrupt to the point that most of them have fingers in other pies. Ministers included. Port Dept officials conducting (for personal profit) the "required" coursework and exam for Capt. licenses, Road traffic dept officers "handling" company fleet vehicle inspections, Straight down through the rank and file. I could go on and on. Nationally, how do you fire 50+% of the Civil service? With whom do you replace them? Can you even start to stamp out this sort of wholesale corruption?


ThisIsOurs 6 years, 10 months ago

100% agree! it's frightening what is accepted as "getting ahead". One thing is for certain , they can't say we can't do anything. Start....


chairarranger 6 years, 10 months ago

"As a rule, you don’t want people in government ministries directing business to relatives without providing options, and I know they [Fyre Festival] were advised of options.”

No. As a rule, you don't want people in government ministries directing business to relatives PERIOD.

If the new government that this Minister represents is actually serious about stamping out corruption and cronyism then they had all better quickly get to grips with the issue of nepotism and the concept of ethics. He is a new Minister, yes, but this really is a feeble train wreck of a response from him.


JohnDoes 6 years, 10 months ago

I would assume that upon receiving this final report he would make the necessary decisions as it relates to the person's involved. Give the man a chance to at least have some substantial credible evidence before he can start issuing terminations.


ThisIsOurs 6 years, 10 months ago

He has enough info to discipline someone, to remove them from decision making for example. These small signals to staff can have giant consequences. When the new boss comes in and everyone knows they better shape up. No more handing contracts to your family. Care about your staff but walk softly and carry a big stick

Here's my take on the "give them a chance" argument because I am sorely disappointed in them so far. Yes they've only been in a minute. But from that minute I can tell they never had a plan for what to do when they got in. They probably had a vague notion but nothing they gave any serious thought. And they've been in government before, they know the general steps. They're just planning now and I'm disappointed. I expected better, I expected them to be serious about this responsibility. I expected them to be a well oiled machine, maybe I'm too critical, but that's what I expected. They knew the issues they would find,

My comments aren't so much about the minor stuff that's already happened, it's more about if they can't get this right, what happens when the real issues pop up? You know what I told a friend after the PLP won in 2012?..."I'll give them a chance..., and Halkitis is there" I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.


slambam 6 years, 10 months ago

She is Allyson Maynard-GIBSON's family. ALL FOR ME BABYYYYYYY!!!


ohdrap4 6 years, 10 months ago

for every chicken she has a pot?


killemwitdakno 6 years, 10 months ago

And where was MOT's public posting for caterers where FYRE could review? MOT didn't utilize Atlantis' list of event servicers?


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